Welcome to “Pivotal moments in Falcons history,” a series examining the most important moments in Atlanta Falcons history. This team has experienced its fair share of ups, downs, and embarrassing moments. Let’s re-live the mediocrity.
January 17, 1999 was not an ordinary day. With a single swing of his magical left foot, Mort Anderson changed the Falcons forever. His 38-yard field goal in overtime sent the Falcons to their first Super Bowl game, an accomplishment Falcons fans had patiently awaited for 32 decidedly mediocre years. Let’s re-live that special moment in Falcons history.
The Falcons weren’t supposed to win that game. It was supposed to be just another tune up for a Super Bowl favorite Vikings team that went 15-1 in the regular season, which is why the Falcons went in as 10.5 point underdogs. But Mort Anderson and the rest of the Falcons had a different outcome in mind. And with a little help from the Vikings, the Falcons made history that day. (No NFL team had ever gone 15-1 in the regular season and not won the Super Bowl.)
This is how that special moment played out. The Vikings took a 27-20 lead into the back end of the 4th quarter. Vikings kicker Gary Anderson could’ve put the game out of reach by converting a 39-yard field goal attempt. With only 2:11 left to play, a 10 point lead would’ve been difficult to overcome.
To fully understand the gravity of this moment, you have to understand what a great season Gary Anderson was having. He hadn’t missed a kick for ... well, a long time. At 39 years old, he’d converted all 35 of his regular season field goal attempts, including going a perfect 14 of 14 from over 40 yards. Gary Anderson was ageless in a way that we as Falcons fans adore. He’d hit a 53 yarder earlier that year. This was his 17th playoff game and he converted 25 of the 32 field goals he’d attempted prior to that attempt. He had quite the track record, but he also ideal conditions, playing in front of a home crowd in a dome. But ... he missed the kick. It drifted left. A Chris Chandler to Terance Mathis touchdown pass would tie up the game before the end of regulation. Boom: worst case scenario for a Vikings fan.
As Mort Anderson lined up to attempt the 38-yard field goal, players joined hands on the Falcons sideline. He wound up and knocked down a strike—he literally split the goal posts. There was simply no doubt that field goal was going through the uprights.
That kick mattered because after 33 years as an NFL franchise and 32 seasons, the Falcons finally got their first shot at the Lombardi Trophy. Unfortunately they fell short of the ultimate goal, but the opportunity itself meant something. Just ask the Browns, Jaguars, Lions, and Texans if it matters. It give the fans something to remember fondly and something to strive towards in the future, knowing you have been there before and can be there again.
This is just one of many exceptional moments Mort Anderson had with the Falcons. But it is, at least in my mind, the most impactful, even if an unlikely series of events had to unfold to put him in that position.
Your thoughts about this pivotal moment in Falcons history?